Most people don’t realize that stress (and how you relate to your own emotions) is by far the biggest factor in whether your relationships succeed or fail.
Although it’s been said… many times…many ways…
You can’t find love in the world until you can find it within yourself…Your relationships with others are only as good as your relationship with yourself…We can only give love freely when there’s enough within ourselves to give away.
OK – we get it!
But what’s the opposite of love within ourselves, then? What blocks this “love” within ourselves that would and should flow out into our relationships? I would call it “stress” in general, but here are some common expressions of it:
– fear, worry, insecurity, doubt
– anger, bitterness, cynicism, sarcasm
– jealousy, criticizing, insulting, hatred
– resentment, holding grudges
– feeling unloved, unappreciated, unnoticed
But rather than listing more expressions of stress and explaining how it blocks your potential for love, let me give you a couple of examples that illustrate why you can’t have love in your life when you’re stressed. I will also share ten personal secrets learned to live a stress free life and have better relationships with everyone.
Think about the times that you’ve snapped at a loved one or treated someone you knew poorly. I can guarantee there was always some form of stress present within you at that time.
Stress puts us into a primitive state of panic. In fact, a neuroscientist once explained how when we enter a state of stress, our brain actually downgrades into a mode where we lose access to the most evolved, creative, rational parts of our brain (the neo-cortex). In other words, there is physiological proof that if you want to make the best decisions, you need to make sure you’re not stressed. Being stress-free in a relationship leads to a good relationship.
Sometimes people want to sell the idea of being “stress-free” as walking around in some kind of transcendent Zen state, or like a bliss-filled grinning idiot. Being stress-free is actually much simpler and less glamorous than that. Being stress-free just means that you feel “fine,” or “OK.” We need to find a way of looking at life where we realize: “There is no problem.”
Yes, there are things to handle. Yes, there are things we need to respond to in the moment. But there is a world of difference between handling something and stressing about it.
Stress is a greedy, poisonous and highly contagious state.
Greedy because it fights to make itself the center of your attention, above all other people and obligations.
Poisonous because it often makes you withdraw (avoid people), fight (repel people), or rebel (act like the opposite of what that emotion is making you feel).
Highly contagious because when you handle your stress poorly and lash out (either subtly or explicitly) at the people you’re close to, you end up causing them stress that they then need to handle.
So now I’ll give you a short, personal list of how I keep my stress low so that I enjoy my life and have great relationships:
1. I take stress very seriously. I do not allow it to exist within me for long.
2. I am honest with myself about my stress level before talking with someone. I know myself – if I’m feeling stressed, it’s a guarantee that I will lash out at someone unintentionally. I do my best to handle my stress before interacting with someone else.
3. I know very well who and what in my life causes me stress. I make an effort to eliminate people from my life who cause me stress. If I can’t eliminate them, I limit my exposure to them to the bare minimum.
4. I recognize that stress boomerangs. In relationships, when I lash out at someone because of stress, they will resent it and inevitably lash out at me at some point in the future. I do my best to avoid creating that dynamic.
5. Bad jobs are poison. I’ve worked for bosses who hated me at a company I didn’t like, and I was incredibly stressed. There are few things more stressful than being forced to be in a place you hate with people you don’t like, doing work you can’t stand, 40 hours a week. I got the hell out of there, and it was the best decision of my life!
6. I recognize that we live in a stress-inducing world and we must actively fight stress. Part of what makes advertising work is that it causes its target audience stress. The stress it causes is subtle and insidious, but it is there. It might stem from insecurity, jealousy, mild anger, craving or any other emotion on the spectrum, but the driving force in marketing is bringing out these feelings in you to emotionally compel you to buy. And as long as there are advertisers out there and companies selling products, they will find more and more ways to advertise to you (which means more stress).
We must accept that “stress sells” and do what we can to limit our exposure to advertising in order to counteract stress. Which brings us to…
7. I live a stress-reducing lifestyle. I choose to live in the area that makes me happiest – on the beach. I choose to exercise 5-6 times a week for the mood-boosting, stress-reducing effects. I choose to eat a very healthy diet to minimize the stress on my body and maximize a healthy, happy state.
8. I refuse to do things in my life that will cause me stress. Sometimes someone will come to me and ask me for something in a wild, agitated state. It might be a close friend, family member, etc. My initial reaction might be to feel stress, but then I quickly remind myself that if I’m going to do something, it is not going to be out of stress.
I do not take on anything until I have found the “path” to accomplishing it so that it gets done, but without me being stressed about it.
Lesson: There is always a way to do what you have to do without stress being present.
9. I am compassionate towards people who are acting out of stress. It is easy to react to someone else lashing out at me by wanting to lash out in return. If I’m not in a great mood to begin with, I might slip and react poorly. But I strive to remember that oftentimes these are people who love me and who have my best interests at heart – they are just struggling with their own stress. When I remember that, it helps me treat them with forgiveness and compassion, which in many cases calms them down and resolves the issue before it starts.
10. I live my idea of my happiest life, not somebody else’s. When I was younger, I was preoccupied with being the person I thought everyone wanted me to be. I would chase ideals I thought were what I was “supposed” to care about and downplay the things I personally liked. I would try to be the image of what I thought everyone wanted me to be, instead of just being the person I enjoyed being. I hung out in places I didn’t enjoy (I later admitted to myself that I hate clubs, for example) and I was friends with people I didn’t like or respect. Hell, I even took a job I didn’t want after months of nagging from my girlfriend at the time. (In retrospect, I wish I’d dumped the job AND the girlfriend!)
And the result of my incessant desire to please the crowd? I lived an empty, stress-filled life that I absolutely hated.
These days I love my life. I make no effort to hide my dorky preferences, my odd and quirky sense of humor, my interests, or anything else about myself I don’t feel fits the “norm.” (To do this, I really had to realize that I didn’t care at all about the people who didn’t like or understand me. Frankly, the only people I care about are those who like me as I am… everyone else is not important to me.)
The result? I love my life, and my relationships with the people I love the most are tremendously better.
Hope that’s helpful to you,